Lake of Dracula (1971) review

Introduction

The unexpected success of The Vampire Doll, unsurprisingly, caused producer Fumio Tanaka to greenlit a sequel. Yet, while Tanaka allowed the first horror to have many thriller elements – Michio Yamamoto actually wanted to direct a thriller, Tanaka ordered the follow-up to be more in line with the style of Hammer Films’ popular Dracula films.

Arrow Video

Review

Young Akiko Kashiwagi (-) is playing at the beach near her hometown in the Noto Peninsula, when suddenly her beloved dog runs off.  She follows the dog and sees him enter an old and seemingly abandoned western manor. In the house, she finds a young lady sitting at the piano. She tries asking her where Leo is, but she fails to answer.

Many years later, Akiko (Midori Fujita), who now lives near Fujimi lake, is still plagued by what seems like a childhood dream. The dream-like imagery puzzles her and the eye that features in it resists any kind of interpretation. Then, one day, while walking the dog and visiting Kyusaku (Kaku Takashina) to ask him to fix one of the locks, a part of the dream that haunts her happens for real: her dog runs off. The same day, Kyusaku disappears.

Lake Of Dracula (1971) by Michio Yamamoto

Lake Of Dracula, the thematic sequel to The Vampire Doll, lacks much of the mystery that made the first film so compelling. Yet, while the spectator knows who and what the horrifying threat is that wanders around Japan, the structure of the narrative is creative and twist-rich enough and the atmosphere effective enough to keep the spectator engaged and keep him guessing at how Akiko and her boyfriend Dr. Takashi Saeki (Choei Takahashi) will deal with the vampiric threat (Shin Kishida) (Narra-note 1).

The Lake of Dracula moreover offers a nice exploration of the relation between the eye and the Lacanian Gaze. When Akiko encounters the golden eye as a child, it functions, in our view, as the gaze. The confrontation with this eye evaporates all meaning. Yet, what is essential is not that this this peering eye has no meaning, but that, when faced with this eye as gaze, the meaning of Akiko, as subject, is washed away. The cold gold eye annihilates the ability of Akiko to situate herself as ego.

Lake Of Dracula (1971) by Michio Yamamoto

Yet, it is evident that for the adult Akiko this haunting eye, despite retaining its unheimlich character, has lost its horrifying impact. The golden eye might haunt Akiko, but because it could transform into a dream-image it cannot endanger her position as ego, it cannot erase her ability to safely situate herself as ego within the societal fabric. The eye has lost its function as gaze, yet remains lingering as a dream-riddle.

What caused the de-horrification of the eye is nothing other than the burning desire to be loved by the parental Other. This incident did not only allow Akiko to strongly bind the love of her parents to her, leaving her younger sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi) frustrated behind, but also to use the parental demand to de-traumatize herself – because I want your love, I’ll accept that the incident was merely a bad dream.

The Lake of Dracula furthermore reveals that the unsettling effect of the gaze can easily be refreshed – this fact is elegantly exploited to make the spectator feel ill at ease. When Akiko goes looking for Kyusaku, the eye of the silent stranger that wanders at his workplace unsettles her not merely because it resembles the eye of the dream, but because it radically returns within reality as real gaze.  

Lake Of Dracula (1971) by Michio Yamamoto

Lake of Dracula does not deliver any new perspectives on the fantasy of vampirism and Dracula. Yet, Ei Ogawa has utilized the well-known tropes of Dracula in such a way that the film offers an pleasant introduction of this iconic western horror-figure for Japanese audiences of the seventies and can please western audiences who desire to see this icon in an atypical setting.

Ogawa touches upon the longing of Dracula for female blood, the subtle intimate erotics that mark the act of being bitten in the neck and sucked one’s blood by a thirsty male vampire, as well as the fact that the bitten female (and male) becomes, beyond their own will, attracted to its violator and his thirst for blood. This forced attraction results in the birth of an unbreakable compulsion to do his bidding and the erasure of the bitten woman’s subjectivity. 

The composition of Lake of Dracula offers a pleasing and thoughtful blend between static and dynamic moments. Dynamic elements, like zoom-ins, are carefully used to dramatize certain interactions or to heighten the intrusive character of certain flashbacks. And Yamamoto takes the time to ensure his fixed moments are aesthetically pleasing, either by exploiting colour-contrasts or by ensuring via a geometrical play that shot-compositions have a satisfying visual tension.

Lake Of Dracula (1971) by Michio Yamamoto

Similar to The Vampire Doll, Yamamoto relies on the lightning design, unheimlich visual elements, effective decorative sounds, and rich dynamic musical pieces to bathe the spectator in a horror atmosphere. By exploiting the compositional tension between light and shadow, Yamamoto does not only give his visuals rich compositional gradations that have an unsettling effect, but also ensures that the infringing realm of darkness attain its threatening quality.

The estranging visual elements (e.g. lingering fog, a pale hand reaching out, a flock of birds, flash of lightning, …) and some quite horrifying imagery elegantly decorates the narrative spaces and emphasize the unheimlich that marks the atmosphere. Other visual elements that support the evocation of the horror atmosphere are fast-paced flashbacks and eccentric collage-visuals that, by disturbing the flow of the composition, stage the intrusion of dream-like imagery on Akiko’s subject and disturb the spectator’s mind during the film and long after the credits have faded.

Lake Of Dracula (1971) by Michio Yamamoto

As can be expected, Yamamoto also relies on sound elements (e.g. subtle wind-sounds, creeping doors, doors slamming shut, a ringing phone, the spatial reverberation of speech, …) to accompany the shifts in atmosphere and the highlight the presence of something otherworldly in the darkness that dangerously invades the narrative’s spaces. And Riichiro Manabe’s threatening gothic tunes that decorates many moments in the narrative succeeds in foreshadowing the hunger that hides in the shadows as well as powerfully dramatizes the imminent threat that Dracula poses for the female (and male) neck.

Lake of Dracula lacks the unsettling blend of Western and Japanese elements and the alluring mystery that marks its predecessor, but that does not stop Yamamoto from delivering a splendid and highly atmospheric homage to the gothic icon called Dracula. Lake of Dracula offers all that a fan of blood-suckers look for, draped in an alluring and unheimlich atmosphere and decorated with some effective moments of gore.  

Notes

Narra-note 1: TakashiSaeki, at one point in the story, escapes into reason and ‘science’ to ward of the confrontation with the horror of the otherworldly. Vampirism is caused by a sort of psychosis and the enslavement of the bitten ones is merely due to hypnosis.

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